Friday, June 14, 2013

John MacArthur on John Piper and Wayne Grudem regarding Spiritual Gifts

I've written about John MacArthur's upcoming Strange Fire conference (herehere, and here).  Pastor MacArthur's rhetoric seems primarily rooted in responding to the face of charismatic Christianity as found on television.  There seems to be little understanding of responsible charismatic theology.  Dr. MacArthur doesn't even adequately define those who disagree with him.  For example, Dr. MacArthur says the following in an interview in January 2011:
There are people like people like C.J. [Mahaney] and other people like that who have shed that theology and simply hold on to what is called a non-cessationist view, that is the view that may be the miracles and signs and the tongues still exist.  They haven't ceased.  That's what's called a non-cessationist.  We would be cessationists, if we would  say we can show biblically how that's all ceased.  So what's left to them is they've embraced good theology and I think they're moving in the right direction.  But many of them, you know, people like John Piper and Wayne Grudem who are, generally speaking, theologically sound will hold on to that non-cessationist's view and say, "Well, God could do that and there could be miracles and there could be tongues."  
Dr. MacArthur has not done justice to these men and their views.  John Piper and Wayne Grudem are not simply "non-cessationists" who think that God "could do that."  This is false.  Here is something of Piper's view from a sermon he preached:
In the previous section I argued that "signs and wonders" in the New Testament were not the prerogative of apostles only. The "seventy" performed them (Luke 10:9,17), deacons performed them (Acts 6:88:6), Galatian Christians performed them (Galatians 3:5), Corinthian Christians performed them (1 Corinthians 12:9-10). Since signs and wonders were not the prerogative of the apostles, there is no New Testament warrant for inferring that these miracles were to cease after the apostolic age.
In fact, I want to argue in this section that the New Testament teaches that spiritual gifts (including the more obviously supernatural or revelatory ones like prophecy and tongues) will continue until Jesus comes. The use of such gifts (miracles, faith, healings, prophecy, etc) give rise to what may sometimes be called "signs and wonders." Therefore signs and wonders are part of the blessing we should pray for today.
There is no text in the New Testament that teaches the cessation of these gifts. But more important than this silence is the text that explicitly teaches their continuance until Jesus comes, namely, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12.
The main point of this passage is that love is superior to spiritual gifts like "prophecies" and "tongues" and "knowledge". The basic argument for the superiority of love is that it lasts forever while these gifts do not. They cease "when the perfect comes," but love goes on forever. The reason given for why these gifts cease is that they are "imperfect". But when the "perfect" comes the imperfect will pass away. So the key question is: When does the "perfect" come which marks the end of the imperfect gifts like prophecy?
The answer is plain in the text if we follow Paul's line of reasoning. Verse 8 says, "Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away" (RSV). Why are these gifts temporary? The answer is given in verse 9: "For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect." So the reason these spiritual gifts are temporary is their incompleteness or imperfection.
How long then are they to last? Verse 10 gives the answer: "When the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away." But when is that? When does the perfect come? The answer is given in verse 12: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood." The "now" of incompleteness and imperfection is contrasted with the "then" of seeing face to face and understanding even as we are understood.
So the answer to the question of when the perfect comes and when the imperfect gifts pass away is the "then" of verse 12, namely, the time of seeing "face to face" and "understanding as we are understood." When will this happen?
Both of these phrases ("seeing face to face" and "understanding as we have been understood") are stretched beyond the breaking point if we say that they refer to the closing of the New Testament canon or the close of the apostolic age. Rather, they refer to our experience at the second coming of Jesus. Then "we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2) The phrase "face to face" in the Greek Old Testament refers to seeing God personally (Genesis 32:30Judges 6:22). Thomas Edwards' hundred-year-old commentary is right to say, "When the perfect is come at the advent of Christ, then the Christian will know God intuitively and directly, even as he was before known of God" (First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 353, italics added).
This means that verse 10 can be paraphrased, "When Christ returns, the imperfect will pass away." And since "the imperfect" refers to spiritual gifts like prophecy and knowledge and tongues, we may paraphrase further, "When Christ returns, then prophecy and knowledge and tongues will pass away."
Here is a definite statement about the time of the cessation of spiritual gifts, and that time is the second coming of Christ. Richard Gaffin does not do justice to the actual wording of verse 10 when he says, "The time of the cessation of prophecy and tongues is an open question so far as this passage is concerned" (Perspectives on Pentecost, p. 111). It is not an open question. Paul says, "When the perfect comes [at that time, not before or after], the imperfect [gifts like prophecy and tongues, etc.] will pass away."
Therefore, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 teaches that such spiritual gifts will continue until the second coming of Jesus. There is no reason to exclude from this conclusion the other "imperfect" gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. Since these include miracles, faith, healings, etc., with which we associate "signs and wonders", there is clear New Testament warrant for expecting that "signs and wonders" will continue until Jesus comes.
Now, obviously, this is more than simply saying that all the gifts "could" be operative today.  Pastor Piper is arguing that all are available!  Dr. MacArthur's comments are even more off-base in discussing Wayne Grudem's views.  Reading chapters 52 and 53 of Dr. Grudem's Systematic Theology shows that he is very much arguing for the full range of spiritual gifts today--including gifts of healings, prophecy, tongues and interpretations of tongues.  For those wanting a short study by Grudem on these issues and to see for themselves exactly what his views are, one should consult his essay Should Christians Expect Miracles Today? Objections and Answers from the Bible.  Now there is a category of person who corresponds to Dr. MacArthur's "non-cessationist" portrayal.  In a four-views book edited by Wayne Grudem entitled Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views (Zondervan, 1996) one of the views is called "Open But Cautious" and is defended by Robert L. Saucy.  Saucy's position is nicely summed up by his words:
To state my opinion up front, the New Testament does not explicitly teach the cessation of certain gifts at a particular point in the experience of the church.  It is, therefore, impossible to say, on the basis of biblical teaching that certain gifts cannot occur at any given time according to God's sovereign purpose.  On the other hand, there are several lines of evidence that demonstrate that the miraculous phenomena experienced in the early biblical church are not standard for the life of the church throughout all time.  (p. 100)
Here is a statement that is reflective of MacArthur's "non-cessationist" position.  This, however, is not Piper's or Grudem's view.  To assert otherwise is irresponsible scholarship.  

Pastor John MacArthur should do two things.  First, he should accurately and honestly speak of his fellow ministers' views.  He may disagree with both Piper and Grudem but he should be able to correctly label their views.  Second, it would be helpful if MacArthur would responsibly interact with the actual arguments put forward by Piper and Grudem.  In his book Charismatic Chaos MacArthur interacts with Grudem's views on prophecy in only one footnote on pages 368-369 and even this does not adequately articulate Grudem's views.

Can we expect better from the upcoming Strange Fire conference?